Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler

 

premature fiction

Friends By Coincidence

“So, you gonna eat tonight or what?”

“Just like that, you’re talking about dinner?”

“Yeah.” William finished off his beer and turned around to get another from Hernandez’s refrigerator. “Just like that.”

“You’re as bad as my grandmother.”

“She a big beer drinker?”

“Right. Food. Everything is about food. Feel bad? Have some food. Cold outside? Have some food. Bit by a dog? Have some food.”

William crossed the living room and folded himself back into the couch, “So, when do we eat?”

“I can’t eat today.” And he turned the game back on.

William felt the beer kicking in. He needed food soon or he would drink himself sick. He realized he really didn’t get Hernandez. He felt like a friend by coincidence. And, then again, Hernandez didn’t get him either. Maybe that’s what made him start talking or maybe it was just the beer. “Luke and I found Tommy before the cops. I stuck my fingers into his throat trying to find his pulse the way they showed us in school. No pulse, but some blood. We freaked out. I think Luke punched me in the arm and I know I pushed him down into the dirt. We were foul-mouthed kids so we swore a lot too, but I don’t remember either of us saying anything that made any sense until we were down at the canal. We ran the whole way. A mile or a mile and a half. I jumped into the canal even though it was pretty low and I got more muddy than clean, but at least the blood wasn’t on my hand and my head was wet. Luke just watched me. Later, we called the cops and they made us take them back to Tommy. Right up to him, because it was getting dark and they didn’t know their way through the orchard the way we did.”

Hernandez had muted the television and then turned it off during William’s story. “Was there a lot of blood? Around the body?”

“No. It was dry.”

“Was he cold when you touched him?”

“A little. But it was a pretty warm day.”

“How close to the road was he? Did someone drive him there or carry him?”

“I guess maybe they carried him. It was after they irrigated this big Walnut orchard. Maybe a week or two after, so it was dry, but it was also flat not rough and tilled between the trees. It’s almost like pavement, you wouldn’t see footprints too easily.” The memory began to make him queasy.

“Did you happen to notice his body? The lower half, I mean. Did it look heavy or bloated? Did his pants look tight?”

William’s eyes were closed and all he could see was Tommy’s face folded down over his knees. “His arms were spread out and he was hunched over. Doubled up. It was hard to see his body that way.”

“Did he have his shoes on?”

“Yeah. I think so.” His stomach twisted.

“Did his legs look spongy or swollen?”

“No. I don’t know. He looked thin and wasted. He didn’t have any life left in him. I didn’t want to touch him. Or look at him. Why does it matter? Aw shit.” And he got up from the couch and bolted into Hernandez’s bathroom where he puked up all his beer and what looked like a little of his lunch.

Hernandez followed him, waiting in the short hallway connecting the bedroom and bathroom to the rest of the apartment. The bathroom door was open so he looked up at the ceiling and kept the beer bottle close to his face so he would smell beer instead of vomit. “You all right?”

“Yeah. Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“I never even puked when it happened. I don’t know-“

“You gotta puke sooner or later.” And he walked away. William heard the front door to the apartment open.

After he rinsed out his mouth in the sink and splashed water across his face, William looked at himself in the mirror. He couldn’t shake feeling like that 12 year old he was, even though he looked almost nothing like him now. He went out and found Hernandez sitting on the step where Charlie Oliveri sat a few hours before. “So, you just wanted me to puke or what?”

After a long pause, Hernandez took his head from his hands and spoke. “Your friend and this kid today were killed and left to be found the same way.”

“That means it was the same guy, right?”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe?”

“It means something’s messed up, William. The whole damn town. That’s all it means right now. Until I know more. The autopsy reports and everything. Until then, it’s just fucked.”